Friday, August 22, 2014

Healthcare Adventure

I'll avoid the gritty details, but if you don't care to read about others' healthcare experiences, then feel free to pass over this post. I've heard from several people that they would be fascinated to hear about a Korean healthcare experience, so I've chosen to share a bit here. Read more below...

Several months ago I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and she discovered a cyst on my right ovary. It was difficult to understand, but she repeatedly stated that I would need surgery and gave me a referral form to a nearby hospital. I went home skeptical that surgery would actually be necessary, but was able to piece together her notes in order to do some of my own research. It turns out that the cyst was actually a teratoma, a benign tumor that often contains skin, hair, and teeth (gross, I know!). After looking at several research articles, I began to agree with my doctor that surgery may be the wisest move. While the tumor was not immediately harmful or painful, it would continue to grow larger and had the potential to cause more serious problems, as well as being more difficult and painful to remove down the road. Additionally, the incredibly low cost of Korean healthcare made the option of having surgery here even more appealing.So, I used the referral form she gave me and went to a hospital just a few minutes from our apartment. There, they performed a CT scan to confirm the type and size of the tumor, and then we scheduled a date for surgery. It was as simple as that.

Fast forward to the beginning of August, at the beginning of our week-long summer vacation. I found myself in a five-person hospital room, awaiting surgery the next day. Below is a photo of me in my pre-op outfit...pajama top and elastic-waisted skirt. So flattering! You can spot the mini-fridge and corner of the cot allotted to each bed in the room.

My surgery went smoothly, with only a few minor complications. I ended up with four small incisions in my abdomen and spent four nights in the hospital recuperating. I was advised to walk frequently the day after my surgery. The photo below is the view from the end of our fifth-floor hallway. I was at St. Mary's Hospital, a Catholic institution, and it looked like the buildings were housing for the nuns or apartments for elderly people that are cared for by the nuns.

When it came time for discharge, I was given a bill and instructed, by the nurse, to report to a desk on the second floor to pay. Total cost: approximately $650. A miniscule number compared to that of a surgery in the U.S.

Overall, it was a fascinating cultural experience to stay in a Korean hospital. In contrast to American hospitals, patients here are cared for primarily by family members with nursing staff providing only minimal care (administering medications, changing dressings, checking vital signs, etc.). Most of the patient rooms at this hospital contain five beds, each of which has a cot (seen above) that can be pulled out from under the bed for family members to sit and sleep on. The entire setup of the unit was designed so that family members would have space to relax, prepare food for patients, and stay with them throughout the day and night. Nursing staff were available and attentive, though surprisingly sparse compared to my experiences in American hospitals.

There was a general feeling of respect for the patient and recognizing them as an intelligent human who knows their own body and should be trusted to take care of themselves. It was completely normal to see patients wandering around outside the hospital, IV poles in tow, fulfilling their mandated exercise (and taking a smoke break, of course). Leaving the hospital, I felt comfortable going home without nursing care because I had already done many daily tasks on my own or with Caleb's help. I knew we would manage to heal up.

At this point I am all but healed up and am just awaiting a final ultrasound in a couple weeks to confirm that everything is still healing as normal. I am so glad that we were able to take care of this problem here in Korea where the stress level of receiving and paying for healthcare are next to nothing compared to my experiences in the U.S. Though I could have done without fish soup for lunch, I managed to come away having had a positive experience. We're grateful!

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